‘A matter of racial equity and justice’: Bellevue resident speaks at all BPS school board meetings

Jimmy Gow, Reporter

Edward Ventura has spoken at every Bellevue Public School Board meeting this year, advocating to change mascots at the secondary schools depicting Native American imagery.

Ventura is a Bellevue resident, an educator with Omaha Public Schools, a board member of Nebraska State Education Association, and chairperson for NSEA’s Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee. His efforts to make change has many facets. 

Since his years in high school and college, Edward Ventura has been bringing the issue of Native American mascots to the attention of others. More recently, since 2015, he has spoken at Bellevue Public School board meetings. 

However, this year he has signed up for every session. 

 “I’m bringing up that issue and bringing it to light,” Ventura said. “If you go through history of probably even Thunderbeat and stuff, you can see where it’s always been brought up every few years, and right now I make it my passion.”

Some schools and districts use Native mascots in order to honor Native Americans. To Ventura, the result is offensive.

“Addressing the issue of harmful ‘Indian’ mascots is not a matter of political correctness. Instead, it is a matter of racial equity and justice,” Ventura said at the September board meeting. 

Along with pushing local authorities, Ventura said he tries to work with the state.

“We’ve been trying to work with some state senators ourselves in the past,” Ventura said. “So we’ll probably push it a little bit more this year.” 

Ventura’s efforts to gather state senator support haven’t been successful enough to garner legislative action. NSEA does not have the ability to direct schools to change mascots, only school districts can do that. He described making change as “quite difficult when it’s coming down to local control.” 

So instead of working from the top down, Ventura believes grassroots movements and support from educators and alumni of Bellevue schools will help make change. 

“We need allies, no matter what,” he said.

In a statement for the NSEA, Ventura writes on the impact mascots have on Native American students.

“The imagery in schools can have a devastating impact on Native American students. It makes Native American students feel less than. Being seen as a mascot reflects poorly on their self-image.”

Scientific evidence supports this claim. 

In a comprehensive review of research examining psychological effects of Native American mascots, mascots that present Native Americans in ‘positive’ ways still negatively impact Native American students. Constant exposure to these mascots leads to increased levels of stress for Native American students. These studies and several others demonstrate that any Native American mascot, no matter if it’s meant to honor Native Americans, will induce stress and negative feelings within Native American students, and that the stereotypes a community holds towards Native Americans will be reinforced. 

Ventura is a proponent for changing the mascots to something that is still relevant to the local community. Since most Bellevue schools are a short distance from Offutt Air Force Base, he said he feels a military themed mascot would be most appropriate. 

There is precedent for schools changing their names and mascots from appropriated Native American sources, even within the Omaha area. He pointed to Millard South who changed their name from the “Indians” to the “Patriots” in 2000. 

Because of the School Board’s policy, members do not engage with the people during public comment period. BPS Board Trustee Sarah Centineo said that the voice Ventura offers is very valid. 

“I think his persistence is admirable… I do appreciate what he has to say,” Centineo said. 

Ventura said that he is not doing this for himself. He doesn’t want to have any accolades. 

“I’m going to make sure to keep the message going,” he said.